Super 81/2 (1994): Bruce (No Skin Off Mt Ass) LaBruce Second Feature

Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, a former porn star, garnered international acclaim with his first directorial effort, No Skin Off My Ass in 1990, a stylish punk tale about a hairdresser’s desire for his skinhead boyfriend.

His second feature, Super 81/2, received its world premiere at the 1994 Toronto Festival and was shown in the midnight series at Sundance. A semi-autobiographical look at a star-director caught in the downward spiral of his career, the new picture is far more ambitious and accomplished, revealing a filmmaker who’s not only a subtle cineaste, but can also offer fresh insights and tongue-in-cheek humor about the absurdities of life in the fast lane.

In this cautionary tale, LaBruce plays Bruce, a washed-up porn star, who spends his days boozing, usually in bed with Pierce (Klaus Von Brucker), his hustler lover who supports both of them. One day, he is rediscovered by Googie (Liza LaMonica), an underground dyke filmmaker, who decides to make an experimental documentary about him, simply titled Bruce. Like Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, Bruce thinks it’s his big comeback, but it turns out, Googie is just exploiting the poor, down-on-his-luck guy to get financial backing for her pet project, Sumbit to My Finger, a tribute to New York underground auteur Richard Kern.

The ambitious Googie seems more intrigued by the incestuous, sexually adventurous Friday sisters (Chris Teen and Dirty Pillows), whom she meets in a cemetery, than by Bruce, who’s humiliatingly reduced to a stand in. Other characters, such as Bruce’s archrival and former co-star, Johnny Eczema (Mikey Mike), and Pierce’s hooker friend, Amy Nitrate (Kate Ashley) round out a cast of mostly underground misfits.

The film’s title is, of course, a take on Fellini’s 1963 masterpiece, but it also comments on the star’s alleged personal measures. Self-reflexive, with dense texture and plenty of references to such movies as 81/2 and Frank Perry’s Play It As It Lays, Super 8 1/2 nonetheless manages to achieve a distinctive identity. As a faux documentary, it’s composed of personal interviews, wicked vignettes, and movies-within-the movie, all tracing Bruce’s rise and fall. However, as is often the problem of movies structured as pastiches, some episodes are funnier–and nastier–than others.

In its black-and-white, cinema verite style, Super 8 1/2 is clearly influenced by Andy Warhol’s l960s movies, though it’s more astutely rude and entertaining. Thematically and sexually, LaBruce is also more outre than Gus Van Sant; among other things, you will see him fully naked, giving head, etc.

The text is often witty and subversive, as when Googie, the pretentious auteur, remarks: “He was actually attempting to break down the whole subject-camera relationship…It was as if he was an existential trapped in a porno star’s body.” Adding to the movie’s charm are special cameo appearances by such real-life underground luminaries as Vaginal Creme Davis, Ben Weasel, Richard Kern, and TV stars Scott Thompson and Buddy Cole.

Unruly and sexually explicit, Super 81/2 will probably appeal to curious, open-minded viewers willing to see a riske movie that deviates from the usual gay fare.